March 08, 1993 12:00 PM

by Shlomo Breznitz

As a child growing up in a Catholic orphanage, Breznitz was known for his amazing ability to recite whole litanies from memory. The accomplishment was as ironic as it was impressive, because the place was Czechoslovakia, the time was World War II, and Breznitz, not a Catholic, was not an orphan either.

He was a Jewish child whose desperate, persecuted parents had placed him with the nuns for his own safety. In this moving, shockingly honest memoir, Breznitz recalls the fear, pain and hardships of those years in heart-wrenching detail. He describes his first lonely day in the orphanage, spent carefully guarding the only token of his old, comfortable life—six white handkerchiefs neatly folded and pressed by his mother. He recounts his struggle to adjust to his new life, obey the nuns and study hard—all the time worrying that other boys would discover he was circumcised and turn him over to the Nazis. And finally, he remembers the long-awaited, bittersweet day he was reunited with his mother, a concentration camp survivor. (His father was killed in the camps.)

Now a professor of psychology at the New School in New York City and the University of Haifa, Breznitz weaves his story together carefully, overlaying the guileless view of a frightened young boy with the hard-won perspective of a mature man. In the preface of this touching book, Breznitz writes that “the fields of memory are like a rich archaeological site.” Without a doubt, he has unearthed a priceless find. (Knopf, $21)

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